Tag Archives: Sustainable Farming

Making bears and fruit trees get along

I’ve recently been involved in a discussion with the BC Food Systems Network about the relationship between bears and food security. In terms of food security, this issue is an extremely important one for anyone living where large predators exist. I plan to write about it over several posts in order to dispel some common misconceptions about the human-predator relationship in terms of food security, and to propose some practical solutions.

Please feel free to voice your opinions in the comments section. I welcome the input, as it gives us all a chance to talk about this important issue. Your comments also provide me with food for thought, and the chance to develop my ideas.

How to make bears and fruit trees get along

A member of the BC Food Systems Network recently wrote about their community’s experience with the Conservation Service. According to this source, the COs in their area, instead of dealing effectively with any nuisance bears, are threatening people with fines if they don’t cut down their fruit and nut trees. While outraged with this Ministry’s attitude, I’m not surprised by it. Here in the Bella Coola Valley, too, people are being advised to cut down their fruit trees by the Conservation Service, instead of being offered support, protection (part of their motto!), and–oh, yes–conservation.

False belief #1: The ‘remove the attractant’ theory

In terms of food security, the idea that we must ‘remove all attractants’ to prevent bears from entering our communities is a dangerous line of thinking (particularly in light of our economic times). The logic may sound reasonable when you are living in the city and dealing with a bear in your garbage can. However, it is not consistent with the goals of food security, because in rural BC there is no limit to the list of attractants. Therefore, we cannot have food security in our communities and be consistent with these Ministry guidelines.

Most specifically, and to put it simply:  if we ascribe to the notion that humans can control bear behaviour by ‘removing the attractants’, then we cannot raise food. Fruit trees, berry bushes, carrots, and parsley all attract grizzly bears. Chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, and rabbits, all attract grizzly bears. The duck feed, the goat feed, and the chickens’ corn all attract grizzly bears. Fields of corn and oats attract bears. Beehives attract bears. (Many of the above also attract a host of other predators that threaten our food security, such as eagles, foxes, wolves, cougars, mice, owls, hawks, martin, weevils, and so on.)

If we are to be consistent with the ‘remove the attractant’ theory, then the next ‘logical’ step is to pass public policy laws that forbid people from raising their own food. In order to ‘remove all the attractants’ we will have to cut down all the fruit trees, plant no vegetable or herb gardens, and get rid of all the feed and grain for our agricultural animals–chickens (see Needless Suffering), ducks, geese, goats, pigs, turkeys, sheep, and so on–lest we be seen to be ‘baiting’ the bears. Instead, maybe we could free range our agricultural animals? No.  To be consistent with the ‘non-attractant theory’ we must leave it to the corporate agricultural producers who can afford (both ethically and financially) to keep animals indoors, behind Fort Knox type fenced areas, or on feedlots.

New Jersey Example

The idea of removing the attractants simply doesn’t work. This line of thinking got the state of New Jersey into its conundrum with their bears. They have gone a long way down this path, having made city wide efforts of removing the ‘attractants’ from their city streets and neighbourhoods. They have made huge efforts to limit the times in which garbage could be out on the street for collection, and even made centralized collection stations. Nevertheless, despite the fact they have removed all the so called ‘attractants’, bears have NOT stopped coming into people’s yards. Now accustomed to viewing human settlements as good food sources, bears are now entering houses. We should learn from their experience instead of continuing down the same path.

If we are going to have, and support, real food security in our province, we have to change the way we look at this problem. If not, then we will eventually lose the right to keep fruit trees, grow gardens, and raise animals for food. The evidence of this is revealed in the current attitude of British Columbia’s Conservation Service Officers.

Living under siege

The idea that humans are responsible to not ‘attract’ the bears is ridiculous. Humans have always grown gardens, had fruit trees, and domesticated animals in places where large predators roamed. Since humans have been on earth they have been in direct competition with other large predators for their food (livelihood) and, by shooting, trapping, snaring, or other aggressive measures, have trained these wild animals not to intrude into their human settlements. Until very recently, we have known and understood our relationship with the natural world; part of our role was teaching wildlife what is appropriate behaviour. We have lost that understanding now that most of us buy food from the grocery store, agricultural production is out of sight and out of mind, and the closest we get to a grizzly bear is by watching the Discovery Channel,

It is time to re-educate ourselves to re-educate the bears. Even the Conservation Officer Service acknowledges that humans  can ‘teach bears bad habits’, so why not teach them some good ones?

To view the series of posts on this topic, see:

Part two

Part three

Part four

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Filed under Agriforestry, Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Ethical farming, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Fruit Trees, personal food sovereignty, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

Breeding a go-go

Shiraz is always happy to come for a hug and a scratch.

Shiraz is always happy to come for a hug and a scratch.

At the beginning of the month, I borrowed a buck from a neighbour. He’s one of two of the only pygmy goat bucks in the valley and, because all these little pygmy goats were brought here by the same man, I’m lucky that he’s not related to my gals.

At first I was worried he might fight with my boys, but they’ve all just accepted each other nicely. In fact, he and Malcolm were once kept on the same farm together so there was an historical familiarity between them that was noticeable.

Thus far, it seems that the little ‘rent-a-buck’ (Buddy) is a hit with the ladies. He’s made his rounds with each of them, though Shiraz remains the least interested.

The book I’ve got says to  run with the does for a month so he can ‘attend’ to each of them as they come into their  respective heats. So, Buddy will stay with us another few days and then he should have done what he came to do.

It seems he arrived just in time for Sundown’s heat at the beginning of the month. I know this because the minute he entered the paddock he went straight to her and started flirting, and within minutes she had accepted him.

In fact, she did more than just accept him–she got downright possessive! In no uncertain terms, she let Shiraz know that Buddy was hers! Yes, you could say  that, this month, I’ve learned what’s goat for “Back off b–tch, he’s mine!”

It is the only time she’s acted like a bossy bitch and stood up to Shiraz–the top ranking doe. I got a real kick out of seeing her assert herself successfully for a couple of days!

Fatty-Fat interested in becomming a mama.

Fatty-Fat interested in becoming a mama.

Goat version of flirting is, to say the least, a bit off-putting from a human perspective (think the bad trucker in Thelma and Louise and you’ll have an idea). Each morning when I enter the paddock to feed them all, Buddy does his best ‘bad trucker’ routine for me, replete with the peremptory splash of ‘cologne’ (peeing on his beard, face and tongue!).

Buddy doing his best 'come hither' routine.

Buddy doing his best 'come hither' routine.

So now I am committed. If they are in fact pregnant, then I’ve got 5 months to come to terms with the fact that I’m going to ‘eat goat’ this year and work up the nerve to kill and butcher them. I’m hoping it will be after hunting season and I’ll at least have one deer under my belt before doing in the kids. I haven’t told Gordon yet, but I am considering doing him in instead of the kids…we’ll see.

Goats milling about in paddock.

Goats milling about in paddock.

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Filed under Animal issues, Goats, How to..., Learning to Farm

Putting a damper on things

This post is in honor of Howling Duck Ranch’s new friend Mitch, who is presently amidst the worst fires in Australian history!

You’ve been asking how the chickens are doing. You’ll be happy to hear that they are all doing fine! They are especially happy today now that the cold weather has broken finally and they are presently grubbing around the yard in search of tasty morsels. Some of them spent time laying in the sun today, the first we’ve had in ages. While I was taking a break from writing today and enjoying a warm lunch of vegetarian pasta, I looked out the window and spotted Pavarotti being groomed by one of his favourite gals and I thought, “Gee, Mitch would like to see this.” Unfortunately, by the time I got the camera ready, they’d completed the task of sorting out his plumage and were back lounging in the sun. Nonetheless, here is a photo for you; I hope it will help dampen the fires and clear away some smoke so you folks can breathe easier this weekend!

This is the rain we experienced last November-December 2008.

This is the rain we experienced last November-December 2008.

Chickens inside on a rainy day.

Chickens inside on a rainy day.Notice the blue tarp which I roll down over the roosts at night.

You will note that I’ve taken out the chicken roosts on the left hand side. I’m experimenting with one of Joel Salatin’s ideas of using deep bed litter and saving myself a lot of time in mucking out their house! So far, it is working really well. If you want to learn more, read Pasture Raised Poultry, by Joel Salatin at Polyface farms. Link to his website is in the blogroll, or click here to go directly to his list of publications.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Ethical farming, How to..., Just for fun

Food Safety 101

Two headline stories from the USA on food safety caught my eye today: `Georgia Peanut Plant Knowingly Shipped Contaminated Peanuts’; `Study Links Corn Syrup to Toxic Mercury.’

1. The FDA has issued one of the largest food recalls in history after eight people died of salmonella poisoning. A Georgia peanut plant knowingly shipped products contaminated with salmonella on a dozen occasions over the past two years. There are 40,000  cases of salmonella reported by people in the USA every year, many more go unreported, and it kills 600!

2. And a pair of new studies has revealed traces of toxic mercury can be found in many popular food items containing high-fructose corn syrup. The sweetener has become a widely used substitute for sugar in processed foods, including many items marketed toward children. To listen to/watch/read the report, go to:
http://www.democracynow.org/2009/1/29/food_safety_georgia_plant_knowingly_shipped

Meanwhile, back at home in Canada, we’ve had our share of problems this year. In September 2008, Maple Leaf Foods, Canada’s largest meat processor, contributed a serious outbreak of Listeriosis in their deli-style products which killed, oh, about 20 people. This outbreak, in a country that has recently made substantial investments in food inspection, occurred at one of the Federally licensed and inspected facilities. Recently, we have been victim to E. coli-tainted spinach from the U.S.; cantaloupes from Costa Rica contaminated with salmonella; pet food and infant formula both containing a toxic chemical imported from China; and the latest, a recall on Black Diamond Cheese slices which are purported to contain small bits of plastic mesh. This week,  the  Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Hygaard Fine Foods EST 318 are warning the public not to consume certain Hygaard brand sandwich products described below because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. These products have been distributed in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, and Ontario. Anything containing peanut butter (Chocolate Dipped Honey Peanut IsaLean Bar, granola bars with peanut butter flavouring, and a host of others) has also been recalled because of the risk of salmonella from the tainted peanut butter. In addition, Les Cultures de Chez Nous Inc. brand sliced, washed leeks and S. Bourassa (St-Sauveur) sliced leeks may be contaminated with listeria monocytogenes. Those are just some of the public safety warnings that the CFIA issued THIS WEEK!

Food imports increased 21.5 per cent from 1996 to 2006. Federal health officials say they’re becoming more and more worried about the fact fresh fruits and vegetables shipped to Canada from other countries, including those with lower safety standards, are making up an increasingly large proportion of cases of food-borne illness. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspects less than 10 per cent of imported shipments of low-risk products, which includes a majority of fresh produce that comes into Canada. The CFIA doesn’t scrutinize products based on the country of origin, but instead looks more closely at high-risk food products, so a major portion of the food Canadians eat will never be inspected by the federal government before it goes on store shelves. One article I read said, “As the number of outbreaks and illnesses linked to foreign food continues to mount and an increasing proportion of the Canadian diet is made up of food imported from other countries, there are serious questions about whether food growers and sellers, as well as the government, are doing enough to keep what Canadians eat safe.” Is it really reasonable that we should rely not only on our government to regulate safety, but also that the foreign growers will ascribe to our (so called) standards?

All this raises serious questions about the security of Canada’s food supply. Why are we importing lousy food and exporting our high quality food? Why are we allowing low quality foreign food onto our store shelves, all the while developing more and more prohibitive legislation that paralyzes our local food producers under the guise of public health and safety?

Ironically, the very food that we could have some influence over, we are busy making it more and more difficult for farmers to produce and  our fellow citizens to access! One would think that such a rise in the number of cases involving food-borne illnesses would create a strong public desire to change the food production and distribution system. Unfortunately, a desire for change won’t come until the masses realize that the government cannot ensure food safety: local farmers, in concert with the watchful eye of their customers, can.

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Filed under Educational, Ethical farming, Food Sovereignty, Learning to Farm, Locavore, personal food sovereignty, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Elvis has left the building

High drama in the chicken house again. First, I found a chicken dead and frozen in an odd position. We’ve been having a really cold spell for a couple of weeks, but not so cold he would have frozen to death. The water wasn’t even freezing in the chook-shed, a good sign. But, once dead and not moving, a body does freeze.

I wondered if he’d been beaten up by some of the older roosters but there were no signs of fighting. It looks as if he just gave up and keeled over, no particular reason. We took him to the dump to feed the wild scavengers that rely on that kind of food source to get them through the difficult winter.

Then I noticed a hen with a bare spot on the back of her neck, a telltale sign of an over-enthusiastically amorous rooster. The next few nights I paid closer attention to the spirit of the hen-house, and noticed that the general ambiance had shifted from a congenial cohesive group to several factions and splinter-groups; within days, an overall feeling of disharmony had taken over the chook house.

The next night Pavarotti, my stud-muffin rooster, looked particularly disheartened. He faced downwards towards the wall in one corner, planted his bum to the centre of the room, and wouldn’t even look at me when I entered. I was reminded of Napoleon at Elba: the General had lost control of his army. It was too sad.

That’s it, I thought, enough! Some of the roosters have to go, but which ones? There was such mayhem in the room I couldn’t tell which one, or ones, were the culprit. Although several hens were muttering under their breaths who the perpetrators were, I couldn’t bring myself to convict on hearsay. The investigations would have to proceed judiciously. At least I had a fair idea who would appear in the line-up. I grabbed up four of the bigger fellows–Elvis, Red, and the two Pavarotti look-a-likes–and took them to the old, now empty, chicken house. So began the slow, empirical process of elimination, but I knew from TV that most police work is just a hard slog.

Once the bullies were removed, a collective sigh of relief reverberated through the new poultry barn and everyone happily went to bed. When I went to check the next day, everyone was fine, but oddly, there were now only two roosters in the old chicken house. How is this possible, I wondered? The doors were locked overnight, the windows closed and no fox holes apparent around the building. It was a mystery.

I let the boys out, topped up feed and water, and forgot about them for the rest of the day. That night when I returned to lock them up I heard a pathetic sound coming from under the long, wall-mounted feeder! the Pavarotti lookalikes had wedged themselves into a 4 inch x 6 inch space beneath the feeding tray to hide from the others. It was obvious who the two bullies were! Thanks, boys! I crouched down, coaxed them out from their hiding space, took them back to the new poultry barn to join the others, and yes, they blended in just fine. The three tenors, reunited! Pavarotti gently let them know who was boss, and when he went unchallenged they were allowed back into the group. I felt relieved, and happy for my commander-in-chief, Pav.

All is quite on the western front, now that Elvis really has left the building!

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Filed under Chickens, Funny stories, Just for fun

How deep is your l’eau?

More than ankle deep in the stuff!

More than ankle deep in the stuff!

We are bilingual in Canada, or so the theory goes. I don’t claim to be, at least not in our  two official languages. However, I do remember a few words from my elementary school days, or what my mother affectionately calls my ‘cereal box french’:  ‘l’eau’ for water, ‘fenetre’ for window, ‘Ouvre la fenetre’ (Open the window), and ‘un bois de l’eau s’il vous plais’ (a glass of water if you please). (I’m certain I don’t remember the correct spelling, so please bear with me while I prove the exception to the theory.)

Today, the view from my ‘fenetre’ is less than appealing, thanks to the amount of l’eau I see in every direction: it has been raining since June. OK, so that is a bit of an overstatement, but only just. It has, in all honesty, rained for most of October, all of November and, apart from a short ‘breather’ of about half a day, all of December as well. Add to this misery the fact that 0ur ‘daylight hours’ stretch all the way from 8 am to 4 pm; although, unlike most of the valley, we have two ‘cuts’ in the southern mountain range which afford us half an hour of sun a day, when the sun is not shining, it matters not.

Water running almost all the way to the turkey and chicken barns.

Water running almost all the way to the turkey and chicken barns.

If I had one (and I probably should, being Canadian and all), I could almost canoe from the front porch to the animals pens. If it weren’t for the trenches I dug between the house and the garden (where the pink gates are and to the left), beyond the garden and before the new chicken barn, and between the chicken barn and the turkey pen, a canoe would be the only way to get around our property now.

It has rained about 5 inches overnight.

It has rained about 5 inches overnight.

Must be 4 or 5 inches of rain.

Must be 4 or 5 inches of rain.

It is weather fit only for ducks. The goats refuse to leave the barn in the morning on days like this. When I try to shoo them out, there is a plaintive chorus of: “N-o-o-o…I-i-i-t-t’s a-a-a-a-a-a-a g-0-0-0-0 ba-a-a-ack to b-ed day!” as I open their door and shove them out into the paddock. I have spent most of November digging trenches around the property to try to funnel the water away from the animal–and our–housing. I have also spent a lot of time wheel-barrowing gravel and sawdust around the property in an attempt to raise the ground level and gain decent footing. This kind of rain wreaks havoc with our soft land, turning it from spongy grassland into a mucky, slippery mess.

A few brave chickens face the weather in search of tasty morsels.

A few brave chickens face the weather in search of tasty morsels.

Usually the chickens brave the weather. Unlike the goats, the chickens are amazingly hearty and not much keeps them down. However, today there were very few to be found in the paddock and around the place. Instead, I found the bulk of them huddling quietly in their barn keeping dry. I guess they heard and took the goats’ advice; I know I’d like to go back to bed and not face this weather.

chickens huddling indoors during the day.

An uncommon sight: chickens huddling indoors during the day.

It is dark at the best of times this time of year in Bella Coola, but on days like this it is overwhelmingly dismal. The narrow east-west valley makes days like this seem like it is early evening from the time you get up till the time you retire. We have several sky-lights in our home so it is not often during the day that I have to turn on lights, but these days are the exception to the rule; I have on nearly every light we own, inside and out!

I try to see the positive side. Our Christmas lights look so cheery against the gloom, hung up on the barn and in the cherry trees. And a sudden drop in temperature would rid me of all this slush… but… here’s hoping it doesn’t freeze overnight and leave me with a skating rink rather than water-front property tomorrow morning.

Normally a small pond, the duck paddock is now completely submerged.

Normally a small pond, the duck paddock is now completely submerged.

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Filed under Chickens, Ducks, Goats, Sustainable Farming, Turkeys

Gone hunting

Will be out stalking fresh, wild, all natural, born free, hormone free, oil industry free, antibiotic free, Mule deer …wish me luck!

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Filed under Animal issues, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

A pig in a poke

the cages in which the pigs will spend their whole lives.

Factory pig farm: the pigs may spend their whole lives in these confined conditions.

I was recently talking with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in years. He had asked me what I was up to and so I told him about my small farm, my homesteading work and my provisioning project. Interested, he probed me further:  Was I growing my own veggies, how about wheat, did I have fruit trees, what about protein? and so on. Inevitably, the conversation settled on the horrific revelation to a contemporary ‘civilized’ person: “You mean you kill your own chickens!?” Yes, yes I do.

The tension mounted as the conversation took the obligatory tour through the all too familiar terrain one gets dragged over by uninformed–so called ‘civilized’–hypocrites: ‘Oh, I could never kill an animal… Oh, those poor chickens (rabbits, cows, pigs, etc.)’ and my favorite: ‘How could you kill the animals you know and then eat them?’ All this from the mouth of a meat eater.

I have had it with the selective morality of animals rights proponents, both professional and amateur: there are no moral lines in the sand to be drawn on this issue, only varying degrees of complicity and awareness. At one end of the spectrum are those ‘friends’  who insulted their friend and would-be hostess (see the Yellow Legs post for this background story) by rejecting her home-grown lunch in favour of an anonymously raised and slaughtered (and quite possibly factory raised and processed under abysmal conditions) pig at the neighbourhood pub. At the other end are those who have chosen to walk the talk: those small holders who know first hand just how intelligent, curious, funny and, yes, tasty pigs, chickens, turkeys, cows and the like can be.

In Western cultures, animals were once honored and looked upon as spiritual forces and/or god-like creatures: serpents, cats, doves, lions, and (where I’m from) wolves, ravens, coyotes, eagles and so on. But agricultural peoples have never anthropomorphized the animals they worked with every day, and eaten. Sure, the Hebrews told stories about sheep and goats, and the Greeks told stories about hares and tortoises (Aesop), and the First Nations told stories of raven, coyote, and salmon, but only to illustrate important lessons and human concerns; the animals themselves were not sentimentalized into humanoids.

In nineteenth century Britain however, under the influence of the Romantics, animals were enlisted into the newly fabricated ‘cult of childhood’. Generations of children have, since then, grown up surrounded by humanized animals: in England, Kenneth Grahame’s Ratty and Mole, A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tiggywinkle; in the USA, Brer Rabbit, Roosevelt’s Teddy Bear, the Forrest Service’s Smokey the Bear, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and the ultimate avatars from Looney Toons, Walt Disney and Pixar which infest our imaginations. As a result, we in the Western world have difficulty avoiding the anthropomorphized animal–it’s everywhere, from cereal boxes to toilet paper.

Here on my farm I not only name several of my animals but also I anthropomorphize the heck out of them through my story-telling. I certainly don’t make a habit of naming everyone, but it sometimes just happens; Yellow Legs was a good example of this. I watch them all, and by observation I learn about their unique personalities, their likes and dislikes. The old adage that you can’t eat an animal that you’ve named is almost true, and the ones I do name are often not eaten, but kept as breeding stock or egg layers.  However, I am able to eat those animals I have named (‘Yellow Legs’ for example) because I am aware of the hypocrisy and pernicious sentiment of any other option.

None of this detracts from the wonderful fact that these animals can give such joy when they are alive. Who knew that a chicken has a personality, that turkeys are curious and intelligent, that a goat can have an eating disorder, that a dog would like morning coffee (so long as it is instant), or that a duck would mope for days after its mate got taken by a fox? It’s ironic that this close observation which comes from closing the loop makes it even more difficult for me to consume these animals, yet consume I must, because the alternative is to go back to purchasing from the factory system, when my new intimate knowledge of farm animals and the fact they have personalities makes me even more horrified by how they are treated by corporate agriculture’s factory systems!

In the case of my farming colleague whose ‘friends’ decided to turn their noses up to the food she presented to them, ostensibly because they ‘knew’ the pig, I have to ask: How hypocritical can you be? Animals in agri-business suffer terribly in life and in death, but, unlike the gorillas of Burundi, the grizzlies of the Great Bear Rain Forest, or the baby harp seals of the Canadian Arctic, they usually don’t get the publicity, the sympathy and the cheques. While there are those who might self-righteously have an owner arrested for the way he or she treats their dog, but ignore or simply not respond to the concentration camp-like conditions behind the walls of intensive livestock operations. What are the criteria which put an animal into the ‘food animal’ category rather than the ‘pet’ category? And what makes even a food animal like a pig into an animal those ‘friends’ refused to eat? And why does someone consciously monitor where their money goes when once a year they cut a cheque to some ‘animal issues’ organization, but not pay an ounce of attention to the abysmal conditions for animals which their expenditures support three times a day?

One of my motives for starting to farm as I am, was to close this loop of hypocrisy. I had gone from meat-eating to vegetarianism to veganism and back again. I had realized that there is no clear line on one side of which lies digestive virtue. After all, even a vegan must consider the loss of rain-forest to soy bean fields, the environmental cost of transporting that soy bean to their plate, or the inordinate amount of energy used to convert it into tofurkey, wrap it in attractive packaging and get it to the store-nearest-you-in-time-for-Thanksgiving, and so on. The least hypocritical position is to make one’s ecological footprint as small as possible; this means extracting oneself as much as possible from the corporate agricultural system. In other words, get out of the supermarket and into the local farmers’ market, and/or grow some food yourself.

Eating is a political act. When I kill and eat the chicken which was happily grazing outside my door in the sun yesterday, I am keeping my ecological footprint small, and in terms of eating, I am not being hypocritical. I am also not supporting the corporate agricultural system and its innate animal abuse. How you spend your money on the food you choose to eat has direct influence on how agriculture is practiced and, ultimately, how hundreds of thousands of animals are treated. If you care about animals, then go find out what your hard earned money is supporting, three times every day.

Today, few of us have the opportunity to know the animal that nourishes our bodies. Few of us even consider the animals we eat in the same category as the bears, gorillas, or baby harp seals.  But we should; they are all animals worthy of the same ethical consideration and humane protection. If anything, our food animals deserve more from us. In the food factory system they are not free, not in a natural environment, their bodies are doctored by humans in many ways, their natural life cycle of reproduction and mothering is denied, interrupted or distorted: their sole purpose for being is to be turned into food. Knowing these facts should be the ground of any ethical decision-making. I wish I had been with my farming colleague’s group of ‘friends’ ordering their pork lunch at the pub. I would have explained how their food was made, and if one of them said, “What are trying to do? Put us off our lunch?” I would proudly answer, “Yes.” With a bit of luck, we’d all end up back at the hostess’s table where they’d started. If you eat, knowing agriculture and its practices is your responsibility; it’s your money that is supporting it–spend it consciously.

Please see the Humane Farming Association for information on the realities of factory farming. They have very good educational packages available for purchase and/or download for those who teach or work in food related education, or if you are simply wanting to know more about where our grocery store food actually comes from.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming, Turkeys

Canning Pears, Martha Stewart

Someone used the title of this post as a google query and managed to end up at Howling Duck Ranch. It’s an odd grouping of words, but even odder that Howling Duck Ranch results as an option. It kind of has a ring to it: canning pears Martha Stewart. Sort of like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, albeit slightly less threatening.  I picture Martha in her kitchen, crouched down low beside her compost bucket, knife in hand, slowly creeping up on her pears, ready to pounce…

That said, I spent the day yesterday making two different kinds of chutney: both involved apples not pears. One is an apricot chutney that I will use for my ‘Fast, Slow Food‘ samosas and other curries. I love cooking curries, love Indian food in general. The other is an apple chutney that I’ve never made before. It is recommended for pork and chicken. I’m not generally a fruit and meat kind of gal, so we’ll see.

I made these two chutneys partly because I wanted to try them, but mostly to make up for the fact that I burned the plum sauce that a friend was helping me make the night before. She and I spent the whole day washing, pitting and canning plums. It was so nice to have some company in the kitchen. The job seems to go so much more pleasurably when you have someone along for the ride; so much less like work.

Somehow she’d even managed to fit in making jalapeno poppers and we greedily devoured them while sauces reduced on the stove. Finally, it was late. She was tired, I was tired, her son was bored and in need of going to bed, so she left the last of the plums in my ‘capable’ care. Mistake. As Trapper will tell you, ‘never can when you are tired’. I wish I’d heeded those words (and read that post before yesterday) and went to bed instead. Then, J and I might just have my favourite plum sauce in addition to the jams and canned plums to show for our efforts, and I might have been able to spend yesterday harvesting the last of the beans instead of making guilt chutney!

To view Trapper’s comprehensive advice on canning, click here: Throwback at Trapper Creek.

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Filed under Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Preserving the harvest

Conscious conscientious decision-making

A state of dependency:

Someone recently asked me if I plan to feed my dog with my farm produce, as well as ourselves. Another, whether or not I was going to make herbal teas and sachets. Still another, whether or not I would grow wheat, oats, and barley, and would I have a cow. Believe me, when I first committed to the ‘Year in Provisions’ project, those thoughts drifted through my head, as well as a host of others. Things like, whether I could feed the other animals on the farm–goats, ducks, chickens, horse. Could I use my horse for roto-tilling the garden. Quite apart from the question of whether or not I’ll continue to have the luxury items of modern day that I can’t grow myself, I had to work through these and a host of other ideas as well.

More importantly for me emotionally, I had to work through the attachment I had to a salary. I quit my job and came back to British Columbia to attempt the project. In order to do this, I need to be financially supported by my husband; something I have not been comfortable with until now. I have never not been self-supporting financially before. Not only that, I had a good paying job at a University, which afforded me certain luxuries I’ve had to give up, and which came with all the benefits of a government job: social security, medical, dental, a pension plan, and paid holidays. It was a big emotional trajectory that I had to work through in order to get here. Moreover it is a risk. I am no longer building up my pension, I don’t have social security, I don’t have a wage to save with for my future, and I am completely dependent upon not only, the generosity of my husband, but also his ability to continue bringing in a wage. Suddenly, these too become luxuries I cannot take for granted.

A matter of time:

Since taking on the challenge of the project, and beginning to let people know what I’m up to, there has been no end of suggestions about what I could do or should do. It is a daunting undertaking.  In particular, figuring out where to stop and what my limits are has been difficult. In fact, it is an almost daily negotiation: should I buy sugar so I can make jam with all my fruit, should I buy vinegar  to can relishes and pickles, should I make vinegar myself from my own apples, etc, etc.? I had to decide whether I would be a  ‘purist’ or simply accept that some foods are necessary to make other foods last. Ultimately, I acknowledged that even the pioneers and cowboys had sugar, flour and coffee!

In the beginning, we talked about cutting out foods we couldn’t produce ourselves, such as olive oil, coffee, wine, beer, etc., as Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon of the 100 Mile Diet fame did, but ultimately we decided not to–because of the time constraints. Smith and MacKinnon spent their time sourcing local foods whereas I’m spending time growing it. What’s more, they’ve already done it–and for that I am grateful. What they have achieved–getting local eating on the media agenda, locally, regionally and internationally–is a major accomplishment. My hat is off to them.

We also decided not to cut out all ‘off-farm’ luxuries for socio-cultural reasons. Food creates community. Food is culture. Food is a social binder. Once you decide to cut out this or that, you can find yourself suddenly sitting alone on the bench (If you’ve ever gone on a strict diet you will know this!). In addition, this year, we knew we would be hiring a bunch of people to help us get barns built and green-houses built. The compromise we have made instead is buy regionally roasted organic coffee and to brew our own beer and wine at the local U-brew. I just couldn’t see myself explaining to ‘the guys’ why I couldn’t make them a coffee to keep them going at mid-day, or offer them a beer after a hard day’s work!

Life is a compromise!

In the end, I let the idea of rigorous ‘Personal Food Sovereignty’ go. I had to. For one thing, it was just too unrealistic a goal: I don’t own enough land, the growing conditions here are not conducive to grain, and I am only one person (albeit with a helpful partner). Moreover, I don’t have the funds to buy not only  the necessary larger piece of land, but also the requisite equipment needed to accomplish the above.

It was a good mental exercise to work through these ideas (and others such as, “How many cauliflower plants should I grow? How often do we want to eat chicken or fish?”). It has been, to say the least, a thought provoking exercise and something I encourage anyone reading this to ponder in terms of their own life. When you sit and think about how you would feed yourself, your family, your animals should you ever have to, it certainly sharpens the mind and focuses your energies! Once you suddenly realize just how dependent you are on ‘the system’, you will be humbled, if not shocked and somewhat un-nerved as I was.

What’s important:

This deep dependency on a system is not a feeling I’m comfortable with. Consequently, that has become my focus: extracting myself as much as I can from ‘the system’. I have made a shift from the original goal–to grow all my own food for  a year, to creating interdependency within my community and social circle. This goal, like my garden, is growing, changing, and continuously evolving based on its relationship to the outside world and my innate limitations.

What is important and what I can manage ultimately comes down to time, my community, and my priorities and abilities for living a rich life. Through the blogging world I have found a community of like-minded others who, by their own writings, have mirrored with scintillating accuracy my own feelings about the day to day of a small-holding. As this fellow blogger, Stonehead, states so humorously:

As always, there are just two of us working the [farm], one full-time and one helping out as and when. It means we cannot possibly do all the things that everyone thinks we should be doing, whether it’s tanning rabbit skins, keeping a house cow, making our own paint brushes from pig bristle, keeping the place totally weed free, making our own soap, or dancing the fandango on the rooftoop every hour on the hour while playing the bagpipes. We have to decide and adjust our priorities constantly to ensure we get the important things done first…

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Filed under Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming